Film Reviews

Shazam! [2019]: The End Of DC’s Film Funk? – REVIEW

shazam!

Is Shazam! The End Of DC’s Dark Universe?

The latest superhero movie attempt from DC hits cinemas worldwide today.

But Who Is Shazam?

Originally created by Fawcett Comics in 1937, Captain Marvel was designed to be a younger version of Superman who had been enjoying his own run of success with Action Comics. Captain Marvel is the alter-ego of young orphan, Billy Batson. When Billy is chased into a mysterious subway car by bullies, he finds himself at the Rock of Eternity, the lair of the wizard Shazam. Shazam bestows his powers upon Billy. granting him abilities tied to six mythological figures(Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury respectively) when he speaks the wizard’s name.

The Captain Marvel comics enjoyed a period of success up until the late 1940s when the publishers of the superman; Detective Comics, sued Fawcett due to believing (rightly so) that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman. Ultimately, DC won their case and Fawcett was forced to stop publishing stories featuring the character.

DC later acquired the rights to Captain Marvel from Fawcett and he began making appearances in comics again in 1972. Unfortunately, the character never seemed to find its audience again and has had a history of failed relaunches. But, that was before finding popularity again in recent years after DC’s latest reboot of their comic book universe after having been renamed Shazam to comply with the copyright now owned by Marvel Comics.

Now that you know the backstory behind the red-suited Superman, let’s talk about his newest adventure.

Shazam!:  Is It The Best DC Superhero Movie?

Its been a rocky road for DC when it comes to Superhero films. Ever since 2011’s Green Lantern film bombed in cinemas, they’ve found themselves having to play the underdog to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. One of the biggest problems with DC’s superhero flicks is their tendency to rework characters personalities to fit their darker aesthetic.

With Man Of Steel (2013) and its crossover / sequel, Batman VS Superman (2016), both featuring unwarranted changes to their characters e.g. Superman killing his opponents and Batman using guns and other live weaponry. On paper, it probably seemed like a good idea to include these themes, so that they could appeal to the older generations of viewers who would’ve read the comics growing up. But, this combined with the lackluster plot, choreography and character designs has left many skeptical about walking into a cinema to watch a Superhero movie made by DC.

Is It A Good Movie?

Shazam!, at its core, is a story about family, acceptance, and adolescence. The plot of the movie sees Billy Batson (Asher Angel) move into a new foster home after running away from his previous homes in search of his mother who lost him as a child. Billy is introduced to his five foster-siblings and is reluctant to interact with them at first, but warms up to them over the course of the movie’s 2 hr 12m runtime. Opposing Billy is the villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong of Kingsman fame) who, after being rejected by the aged wizard, Shazam, as a child, seeks to gain the power he was denied as an adult. He was aided by the Seven Deadly Sins.

The movie is primarily a comedy but does have its fair share of dramatic moments, including a particular scene in the later part of the movie that was particularly heartbreaking. But, one of the flaws of the movie is that is has a hard time balancing both of these elements, some jokes do, unfortunately, fall flat due to this. That being said, one could argue that the excellent acting performance of Zachary Levi (Chuck, Thor, Marvelous Ms. Maisel) more than makes up for them.

Levi shines as Billy’s alter-ego, Shazam, and brings a unique combination of body language and dialogue delivery to the character while also managing to very convincingly play a 15-year-old in a man’s body. If there is one thing this movie does exceptionally well, it’s that every major character is well-developed by the end of the film with a few key exceptions, but we won’t go into that for spoiler reasons. The movie is also incredibly self-aware, and chock-full of references to DC’s other superheroes (although Wonder Woman was strangely absent). It’s this self-deprecation of the genre that sets Shazam! apart from the rest of the DC movies, bringing it closer in comparison to Marvel’s Spiderman Homecoming as Billy struggles to deal with his newfound dual-identity and foster family.

By far the biggest flaw with the movie is that its action scenes feel very lackluster. Perhaps it’s the comedic tone or the fact that by the end of the film there are a number of characters to manage on-screen. This isn’t just a problem exclusive to Captain Marvel though as Avengers Infinity War also had a tough time giving each of its ensemble cast enough screen time. The pacing of the film is also an issue with some scenes dragging on and others leaving you with the impression they should have been left on the cutting room floor.

What about the Villain?

Played by Mark Strong, Dr Sivana is initially an interesting character. Rejected by his family and the wizard, Shazam, as a child. He turns to villainy to achieve his goal of becoming the most powerful being on Earth. Strong’s interpretation of the character is quite different from how he’s been portrayed in the comics, with the characters past incarnations often having a maniacal, hunchbacked appearance, more akin to the stereotypical mad scientist. Strong’s version of the character seems to be based on the more recent version of the character which gave him a more serious and respectable appearance.

While a more restrained version of the villain might fit the movie better, it does remove some of the tragedy of his origin, as in the comics Dr. Sivana was originally a kind-hearted scientist who wanted to help mankind. We can only hope we might see a more human side to him if Shazam! gets a follow-up movie.

Unfortunately, despite Strong’s standout performance,  the films secondary antagonists, The Seven Deadly Sins, are a sticking point in an otherwise enjoyable story. Despite having a solid introduction, they remain underdeveloped for the remainder of the runtime and only serve as disposable henchman that have no real personality beyond glowing eyes and smoke effects. Though, those effects would probably make the monster from Lost jealous. I can’t help but feel that they would have served as better foils had they been given their own individual personalities that corresponded with their monikers.

Spoilers Ahead

Final Conclusion

In conclusion, Shazam! goes a long way towards restoring faith in the DC franchise, it isn’t a perfect movie, but it has a powerful message and the few emotional moments in the film really hit home. The effects and makeup were above average with the designs for the Seven Deadly Sins being particularly impressive in the few solid glimpses we receive of them.

The film’s final act is a mixed bag of drama and comedy, with the climactic battle between Shazam and Sivana feeling reminiscent of the Superman VS. Zod fight in Man of Steel at times. As the two enemies fly through downtown Philadelphia, trading blows, fortunately, this is broken up with one of the movie’s better comedic moments. The film’s ultimate ending does impress with the final supporting actors doing a great job of mirroring Levi’s portrayal of Shazam.

I would fully recommend seeing Shazam! in theaters if you want more superhero films from the DC Universe this is the best way to support that happening.

Also, be sure to let us know what you thought of Shazam in the comments below.

SHAZAM!

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